‘Look, I’m not comfortable about this either but I don’t really see what other options we have,’ sighed Clever. ‘We either see if Traitor can help us in T-block or we might have to resort to contacting Crook or Criminal or some of that mob in our building.’
‘Er, guys,’ said Conspiracy, hesitantly. ‘I was approached by Crook and Coercion earlier. They knew we were...sorry, they knew I was asking about Onesie and quizzed me about it. I asked them if they were aware of anything about Crusade’s disappearance. Maybe we shouldn’t rule out getting some help from them to track him down. I know, I know…we don’t want to mix with the likes of them but wouldn’t we take help from any source?’
There was a flurry of protests. Cynic made a calming motion with his hands.
‘Well, wouldn’t we? Conspiracy has a point. There was somebody else here looking for Crusade earlier, someone I didn’t recognise. I’m sure he wasn’t a word, more like a number or a punctuation mark. We need to do something to help Crusade…and soon. We’re getting nowhere ourselves; that visit to the T-block was a waste of time and Traitor is hardly likely to come up with anything. From what I hear, he’s so mistrusted that he’s just fed lies by all and sundry as a precaution.’
‘Next, we’ll be asking the C-word for help,’ grumbled Coin. ‘Crusade is a friend of mine but I’m not happy about getting those thugs involved. It won’t exactly be an appeal to their altruistic side, will it?’
‘Well, what else can we do?’ asked Conspiracy.
Silence settled. The futile nature of their quest had seen a fractious edge creep into the hitherto easy friendship among the group as Coin’s discovery of Treason’s identity had, thus far, been their only progress. Clever had become the de facto leader of the group and when he cleared his throat, all eyes turned eagerly towards him.
‘This may sound corny but shouldn’t we think how Crusade himself would handle this? He’d cajole and badger people into some form of action and say “bugger the consequences”. Shouldn’t we do the same?’
‘He’d also keep it within the bounds of legality and…’ countered Coin who was interrupted by Clever.
‘Oh, bollocks he would. The other night in his room, we saw the evidence of his participation in all those campaigns, some of which were proscribed so there’s a precedent right there. I’m fed up sitting around moaning about the lack of progress. Let’s do something.’
‘But what?’ asked Coin. ‘You’re the clever one here.’
‘I’ve said my bit already,’ Clever replied in a measured voice. ‘I’m going to see Cad. He’s the least objectionable of that lot and if any of you guys want to join me, fine.’
He stood up to leave the room. Halfway to the door, he stopped, turned around and saw the lack of response from the others. ‘Oh for Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with you lot?’ he yelled, all attempts at sanguinity exhausted. He turned to the door again just as Crumpet walked in.
‘What’s happening? I don’t expect raised voices from you guys.’
They all spoke at once. Clever, exasperated, flopped back into a chair. He motioned for quiet.
‘This is what we need…a woman’s perspective. We’re out of ideas about how to track down,’ he paused for emphasis, ‘our good friend, Crusade. I’m going to see Cad to find out if he and his cronies can do anything. What do you think?’
She shrugged. ‘If it’s the only idea we can come up with, why not? Maybe this is a situation where a bit of feminine charm might help. Besides, Cad has a certain roguish charm. What?’
‘Nothing,’ replied Conspiracy. ‘It’s just that there’s roguish charm and there’s roguish charm; you know what I mean.’
‘Oh, I can look after myself, Conspiracy.’ She turned to Clever. ‘Come on then, let’s go.’
They left and Coin whistled. ‘Well, she’s a spirited sort, isn’t she?’
A desultory silence returned as the others looked away.
Treason followed 13 into a room which, compared with other offices she’d seen on her walk through Fibonacci House, was opulent. A velour sofa sat behind velvet footstools, flanked on either side by mahogany tables while the room abounded in overstuffed armchairs and a log fire burned in a marble fireplace. It was so at odds with the hi-tech offices she’d so far seen that Treason could only laugh when 13 ushered her to one of the armchairs.
‘Why do you laugh?’
‘We’d refer to a room like this as over-the-top, that’s all…but in a good way. It’s, er, nicely furnished.’
Her immediate thought was of her last encounter with Crusade and his elaborate stage-setting. If this was going to turn into another clichéd attempt at seduction, she’d feel like giving up on men completely although such an event was unlikely in the hands of somebody who seemed out of his depth in her company. She smiled at the prospect – it would be interesting to see how he might approach such an attempt – but she quickly recovered herself.
‘It’s very kind of you to take time out to see me. As Thirteen explained, I’m curious about the world of numbers and I’m also aware that we – and I absolutely include myself here – don’t really make enough of an effort to bridge whatever gulf may exist between us.’
‘Between us? But we have only just met. I do not understand.’
Good God, Treason thought, this was going to be difficult. Over the years, she’d been involved in torturous conversations with some of the more pedantic words – a particularly trying encounter with Punctilious came to mind:
Treason: I might do it in June;
Punctilious: You mean may;
Treason: No, June. I don’t want to do it in May;
Punctilious: No, you said “I might do it in June”. Might is correctly used in the past tense only...you should have said “I may do it in June”. Only saying.
Now she had to deal with somebody who wasn’t just being overly-precise grammatically and probably also struggled with nuances…but she was here for a reason so she persevered.
‘I meant the whole dichotomy between us and you.’ She was met by another puzzled look from 13. ‘Oh hell, look, let’s just talk about this and that and take it from there.’
There was no response from 13.
‘On the way here, you said that you’d met one of my fellow words in the canteen. Who was it?’
13 smiled; this was becoming easier. ‘His name is Ubiquarian. Do you know him?’
‘Ubiquarian? Hmmm, no, not a name I recognise. Actually, it’s not a word which I’ve heard before. Are you sure that’s his name? I’m not doubting you; it’s just that…’ Treason noticed dismay on 13’s face and her words trailed away as he picked up a small hand-held device which resembled a mobile phone, tapped a few keys and looked up triumphantly.
‘He said that he does not exist in the OED and here is proof.’ 13 thrust the device forward to within an inch or two of Treason’s face.
‘Yeah, OK, OK. Like I said, I didn’t doubt you. What was his reason for being here? Er, not that he’d need a reason,’ Treason laughed. ‘It’s not like you guys are freaks or anything.’
Again, she saw his wounded expression. Had she not been the persevering type, she’d give up at this stage, return back to T-block and face whatever or whoever was there. Treason took a deep breath. ‘So, tell me about yourself. Have you been over to our neck of the woods? Er, have you ever visited any of the word buildings?’
13 brightened. ‘Yes, I have. Lottery is an acquaintance of mine. He told me about the superstitious habits of people.’ 13 leaned forward and giggled. ‘I tell people who I am and ask them if they would like some advice on which lottery numbers to select. They sometimes seem alarmed. This amuses me.’
‘People aren’t always rational. Have you met many words? Sorry, I seem to be asking so many questions.’
‘We are well-practiced at providing answers,’ 13 replied and Treason laughed. ‘You have come to the home of answers. You may ask more questions.’
Treason laughed again, louder this time. ‘Aren’t you going to offer a girl something to drink? That cabinet over there looks interesting.’
She nodded towards a cabinet in the corner of the room which 13 walked tentatively towards. This room was available when guests had been invited and, this being his first visit to it, he had no idea which drinks the cabinet contained; nor was he well versed in the art of entertaining. Opening the door with a flourish, he was relieved to see three well-stocked shelves and waved his arm towards it. Treason giggled at 13’s display of bravado: it was evident that he wasn’t a practiced host and his attempt to mask this was both funny and endearing. She’d endured a fraught few days and wanted to prolong this entertainment.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t know my way around a drinks cabinet like that. What would you recommend?’
‘It would depend on your taste. The probability is that you would favour a white wine or maybe a…’ He glanced towards the array of bottles. ‘A vodka.’
Treason smiled. Either he’d been lucky with his guess or he did, after all, possess some knowledge of a girl’s likely taste in drinks.
‘A vodka and tonic would be perfect, thank you. Whoa, easy on the vodka, 13. You’re not trying to get me tipsy, are you?’
13 froze and put the bottle down. ‘I am sorry. I was unsure what ratio of vodka to tonic you require. What ratio would you like or do you wish to pour it yourself?’
‘No, that’s fine. Just top up that glass with some tonic and it’s good.’
13 did so, poured himself the same measure and clinked her glass with his. Treason sipped her drink and nodded approvingly, 13 took a large draught from his, coughed and gasped. Treason giggled as she poured some water from a bottle into another glass and handed it to him.
‘Thank you,’ he wheezed. ‘That vodka is strong.’
‘Especially when you down half a glass in one go. So, where were we? I mean, what was I asking you? Oh yes, about your encounters with words.’
Half-an-hour later, Treason could only put together a sketchy portrait of 13 and his life as a number. The conversation stuttered along as 13’s literal interpretation of almost everything she said led to frequent pauses for clarification. Thirteen had intimated that 13 was one of the more articulate numbers so if she intended going to ground for a while in Fibonacci House, she would struggle to find any stimulating dialogue. She remembered their earlier exchange.
‘You mentioned that you’d just met that Ubiquarian guy. Does he come here regularly?’
‘No but he said that he wished to find out more about our environment. He also said that he was…’ 13 blushed. ‘He said that he was unsuccessful with ladies.’
‘Now how did your conversation get around to that particular subject?’ Treason smiled as 13 looked down at the floor. ‘Never mind, boys will be boys. I have a favour to ask. I want to bridge the gap between our worlds and the best way to do this is to base myself here for a few days. Are there guest rooms available? Or is there an official channel that I have to go through?’
‘I can arrange that,’ 13 said with authority. ‘It is not necessary to go through the official channels. I can put you in touch with one of my lady colleagues who will find you a room.’
13 contacted 33 and Treason was given the key to a room.
Next episode: The return of Onesie....